Thursday, July 25, 2013

Repertoire for ICO Concert Number 1

Many of you know that the first week of our summer here at Interlochen was quite trying as my wife’s mother was hospitalized the weekend that we arrived, and she went back to Pennsylvania to be with her.  Sadly, her Mom was gone within only a few days and I was not able to bring our first program to conclusion during the time we were tending to funeral arrangements and family needs.  I am quite thankful that my friend and colleague, Andy Moran, stepped in a conducted the first ICO concert of the season. The students really pulled together with a sense of community and care for me and performed like seasoned veterans.

Nonetheless, I had run most of the rehearsals for the first concert and would like to share some of my thoughts about the repertoire.  The program was February: Carnival (Tchaikovsky/ arr. Steven Brook), Mandoline (Faure/ arr. Thom Sharp) and The Brilliant Red Shandandan Flowers (Traditional Chinese Shanxi Folk Song/ arr Albert Wang).  Each of these fine pieces are actually orchestrations rather than arrangements and fully stand on their own merits as such.

February: Carnival (Tchaikovsky/ arr. Steven Brook) is taken from a set of piano works entitled The Seasons, Opus 37A, that Tchaikovsky wrote for a monthly music publication, Nouvellist, in 1876.  It is, obviously, the work from the month of February and included the following poetic epigraph:

                At the lively Mardi Gras
                Soon a large fest will overflow

There are many characteristic Tchaikovsky elements in the piece, including playful chromatic rhythmic passages in the A and A” sections and a beautiful lyrical “B” section that is unmistakably Tchaikovsky.  The piece, itself, is in D major, but offers plenty of opportunity to teach chromatics.  All sections of the string orchestra are challenged both technically and from an ensemble perspective.  I really recommend this work.  It is listed as a Grade IV and I feel like that is very accurate.

Next, Mandoline (Faure/ arr. Thom Sharp), has quickly become a favorite of mine.  I have actually had it in the ICO folders for the past 3 years and simply hadn’t gotten to it yet.  I decided that this year was the year.  Mandoline is actually a solo work for soprano and piano.  The text of the song, by French poet, Paul Verlaine is as follows:

The givers of serenades
And the lovely women who listen
Exchange insipid words
Under the singing branches.
There is Thyrsis and Amyntas
And there's the eternal Clytander,
And there's Damis who, for many a
Heartless woman, wrote many a tender verse.
Their short silk coats,
Their long dresses with trains,
Their elegance, their joy
And their soft blue shadows,
Whirl around in the ecstasy
Of a pink and grey moon,
And the mandolin prattles
Among the shivers from the breeze.

The piece accompaniment voices have a guitar-like quality and provide a rhythmic and tonal foundation for the beautiful melody that is passed between all voices.  The trick to this one, in my opinion, is for every part to know when they have the accompaniment, the melody, or the melodic obligato voice.  One each section truly knows their role in the ensemble, the piece really works. There are definitely some tricky tonalities in play here, like a brief switch from the melody in G major to a measure of F# major between “verses.”  There is also a brief G minor bridge section.  In all, this arrangement provides a great challenge for a young orchestra.  Many of you will recognize the arranger, Thom Sharp, from his many works in the jazz idiom for young orchestras.  I use them all the time and love his compositions.  This one, is not that!  It is all Faure and really well-done, but not easy.  I did have to do some work to make the bowings all make sense in this one. But, that didn’t take a great deal of time.

Finally, The Brilliant Red Shandandan Flowers (Traditional Chinese Shanxi Folk Song/ arr Albert Wang) was really a great change of pace on this program.  While it was the least technically challenging work on this program, it provides some many opportunities for the ensemble to really listen and work as a single unit. It opens with an adagietto section that provides ample opportunity for discussion and rehearsal on phrasing and the natural push/pull of ensemble playing.  It then moves into an allegro section that calls for a marked bow stroke, low in the bow, and a very articulate style from every player.  Celli get the melody in this section and can really shine here.  The piece returns to tempo I and finishes with a beautiful forte section that calls for lots of bow and sound.  While it is tough to define a key here, I guess I would define it as basically A Dorian throughout the work, but ending on a huge A major chord.  It is a great finisher for any concert.

I was so bummed to not conduct the performance of this program.  I really loved rehearsing all of these works.  I can’t wait to hear the recording of the performance.  I heard that it was fantastic and have no doubts that it was!!



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